3D printers are growing and so is their amazing output

From human organs to houses, the decreased cost and increased attention to three-dimensional, or 3D, printing is putting these machines in the hands of several industries that are eager to try them out and make prototypes.

NASA is experimenting with 3D printers by taking them to the final frontier. Testing a 3D printer on the International Space Station was the first step towards establishing an on-demand machine shop in space. Three-dimensional printing offers a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand, a huge benefit to long-term missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo.

Mars Ice House NASA Habitat Challenge

NASA just completed phase 2 of their $2.5 million 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, an architectural competition to design a colony in space. The goal is to not transport materials from Earth, but use what the planet has to offer for construction. Phase 3, which is currently under development, will focus on fabrication of complete habitats and will debut in August.  View more on an out of this world challenge.

When astronauts head to Mars, they will need a safe place to stay on a planet with an atmosphere that doesn’t provide protection from high-energy radiation. For researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., the best building material for a new home on Mars may lie in an unexpected material: ice. Nasa experts, designers and architects came up with a Mars Ice Dome.

In May, engineers from a U.S. commercial space firm successfully launched a 3D rocket from New Zealand into space, but not into orbit. The carbon-composite rocket, whose engine took a full 24 hours to print, made it up past Earth’s atmosphere with a cargo of sensors. Data will now be analyzed to figure out how to improve the rocket, named the Electron.

The technique of 3D printing is spreading rapidly in the field of medicine. Many hearing aids and dental crowns are now 3D-printed, as are disposable surgical instruments and even prosthetic limbs.  In 2014, the federally funded National Institute of Health launched the NIH 3D Print Exchange, a public website that enables users to share, download and edit 3D print files related to health and science.

Perhaps, in the future, patients won’t have to wait on a donor list for an organ transplant. The 3D bioprinter is used to fabricate functional human tissues that possess human tissue-like composition and architecture. Those functional tissues can be used for repairing damaged tissues and regeneration. Bioprinting is like regular inkjet printing, but the bioprinters use living cells instead of pigment-based inks and inject the cells into a matrix instead of printing on paper.

Scientists have already been able to successfully print lung tissues. The process includes printing a cluster of basic lung epithelial tissues which are then allowed to grow and proliferate, becoming the trachea. Drugs are injected into this system to make the artificial trachea contract and expand much like our normal wind pipe would do.

Using a 3D printer to build us a place to live and work on our current planet has been happening for a few years. In 2015, It took 17 days for a 3D printer to print a 2,700-square-foot office building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In 2015, China  successfully 3D-printed a five-story apartment building and a three-story mansion that were constructed using a 500-foot-long 3D printer. The villa cost about $161,000 to build, decreased production time between 50 and 70 percent and saved between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste.

A San Francisco-based 3D-printing startup, recently showed it can 3D-print concrete walls for a small house in less than 24 hours. Using a 3D printer to lay down concrete walls on a test site in Russia, the firm was able to print a 400-square-foot house. The printer, which resembles a small crane, places layers of a concrete mixture the company claims can last for 175 years and after the walls have been laid, the printer is removed and insulation, windows, appliances and a roof is added. Advocates of 3D printed-structures tout that they are affordable with less waste, can resist winds of up to 220 mph, use of natural materials, compatibility with Internet of Things devices and lower insurance costs because the materials carry low-risk hazards such as fire and roof damage.

Riverside County is ready for a $4B gigabit fiber network

California- Riverside County (RIVCO) is searching for participants that are interested in building a gigabit network. Responses are due Aug. 15 and a telecommunications partner or partners will be selected in the fall to build out the gigabit fiber network. The RIVCOconnect Broadband Initiative, a $2 billion to $4 billion public-private partnership (P3) with the goal of building a gigabit fiber network, represents the first time that a regional P3 has worked to install fiber optic infrastructure on such a large scale with multiple local governments in the United States. This project does not depend on taxpayer dollars and cities in Riverside County are not seeking to own or operate the fiber network. Instead, RIVCOconnect is designed to make it possible for the private sector to distribute the network.
Riverside County’s 7,200 square miles contain nearly one million homes, apartments, businesses and institutions that need high-speed internet access. The county, its 28 cities, and all participating tribal nations have signed on to a common resolution to support the effort. Each entity has agreed to streamline and expedite often time-consuming permitting processes in order to speed the process along. Among the ideas to facilitate the process are “dig-once” policies that allow fiber conduits to be installed whenever a roadway is opened for construction, as well as coordinating activities countywide through a single point of contact. These ideas and others could help eliminate hurdles that would amount to as much as 30 percent of construction costs, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars on the project.

States investing in real-time traffic data

In February the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released new data showing that Americans are driving more than ever before. In 2016, drivers in cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs put a record 3.22 trillion miles on the nation’s roads, up 2.8 percent from 3.1 trillion miles in 2015.

The data also shows that it’s the fifth consecutive year of increased miles driven on roads and highways which underscores the demands facing American’s roads and bridges and reaffirms calls for greater investment in surface transportation infrastructure.

It also means drivers are more aware of the roads they travel each day. There is that road that must be avoided at certain times of the day due to high traffic congestion. We all have our special back-road shortcuts, which have become few and far between these days, that we take when traffic is at a standstill. Before the internet and mobile phones, we relied only on television, newspapers, radios, traffic helicopters and even CB radios to warn us of construction, accidents and congestion on the roads. If your car broke down, you thumbed a ride or walked to the nearest pay phone, unless the road had one of those convenient, emergency call box phones on the roadway.
These sources are still very reliable, but once mobile devices and the internet came into existence, the updates became instantaneous as we refreshed our web browsers. The department of transportation in most states seems to have taken notice to this resource and partnered with other businesses to get their websites up-to-date.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced in January that they were partnering with the popular crowd-sourcing traffic navigation mobile app Waze. The Wisconsin DOT will verify and then post real-time traffic data such as construction, crashes and road closures throughout the state using the Waze website and app. Wisconsin DOT plans to incorporate Waze’s data into the 511 Wisconsin website redesign this spring. The change will give drivers faster updates, personalized camera feeds and better knowledge of road conditions.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) launched a new website last month called the CT Travel Smart. CT DOT spent $150,000 upgrading the website and the federal government funded 80 percent of the bill. Drivers can personalize their travel details, can view the entire state or just a region or they can sign up online and create certain routes and save individual cameras to their profile. They can also receive personalized alert messages about their saved routes or certain roads. The state has 350 traffic cameras running 24-hours a day.

If potholes seem to be a common problem on your route, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is currently updating its online database so all roads in Boston will have lookouts for potholes. The program was piloted in a couple of cities and will expand its service to the rest of the state over the next few months. During the pilot program, a total of 520 potholes were repaired on I-90 and between Springfield and Weston. Drivers can report a pothole by calling a hotline or filling out a form online.

If it isn’t potholes you want to avoid, maybe it is a slick film of ice that has you anxious. New technology was recently added to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) website which allows drivers to track snowplows working around the Upper Peninsula in real time. Drivers can click on active plows and see exactly what they are doing and whether it is plowing or applying salt. The technology currently only tracks MDOT plows and not county road commission or private plows.

Transportation agencies aren’t the only ones keeping their residents in the know. City officials in West Palm Beach, Fla. teamed up with a consulting firm to study the city’s transportation for the future. The study will include downtown, the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor, parking management and transportation demand.

The consulting team will have a website, WPBmobility.com, that will go live in a few days with updates on the studies and an interactive map for the public to help identify where there are problems or opportunities for transportation changes. This comes at a time when the city is developing a citywide bicycle master plan and making downtown more livable.

But what happens when it is your vehicle that is causing the traffic jam? The Illinois Tollway has launched a beta form of tracking program for users to locate Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (HELP) trucks. The HELP Truck Tracker, which is available on the tollway’s website, shows trucks marked on the website with arrows identifying the direction of travel with a popup text box reporting the nearest mile marker. The HELP program sent out 12 trucks to patrol the Tollway system in 12 counties from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The trucks assisted more than 30,000 customers while patrolling more than 1.2 million miles last year.

Smart Cities – again, making huge changes to benefit citizens, taxpayers

Here’s something shocking… A recent report revealed that smart traffic management could save 4.2 billion man hours worldwide annually by 2021. If that happened, it would mean that every motorist in a crowded city would save roughly one full working day per year.

Transportation data, the focus of most smart city initiatives, is helping city leaders use technology to alleviate traffic congestion, improve mobility and create safer roads. That’s a good thing and motorists in traffic congested cities hope that relief is on the way soon.

Cities used transportation data in the past for planning and decision-making but the data that was collected was usually outdated by the time planners received it. The technology was not there to collect traffic data in real time.

All that has changed and traffic data is now collected in real time and the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing cities so rapidly that most citizens are not even aware of the changes.

The IoT enables the collection, storage, analysis and use of real time data. For example, one city project in Ontario, Canada, is using real time traffic data to create algorithms that regulate traffic lights.

Another city – Columbus, Ohio – is about to install an IoT-connected transportation network that will respond to sensors deployed along 50 miles of roadway, at 175 traffic signals and on 3,000 vehicles. When complete, the project will allow emergency vehicles to have priority at all intersections.  The real time data received from the sensors will signal traffic light changes as emergency vehicles approach.  Pedestrians and motorists will be protected at intersections.

Cities are also launching innovative technology solutions to provide better circulation routes on roadways with high truck traffic. Oregon Metro in Portland hopes to deliver freight priority at signalized intersections on Columbia Boulevard, which is a freight corridor and a vital link between North Portland and I-5.

In 2018, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission plans to experiment with variable highway speed limits based on road and traffic conditions detected by computer sensors. Many motorists will support that concept.

Cities are even using transportation data to make infrastructure repairs more effective. Digital monitoring of streets uses real time data collection to assess infrastructure quality and prioritize needs. Some cities are doing it through vehicle-monitoring systems, and here’s how that works. Street data is collected from city-owned vehicles that have sensors and other technology attached to them so that they can transmit road data to a central location. The vehicles have GPS technology, tire pressure sensors, cameras, radar and microphones which gather road data cheaply and effectively. Cincinnati turned to this form of digital monitoring to monitor and prioritize repairs to streets that had fallen in disrepair.

From monitoring traffic congestion to planning and prioritizing future infrastructure projects, the IoT (which really means the collection of massive amounts of real time data) is changing cities like nothing has in the last few decades. Smart cities are evolving and citizens and taxpayers will reap the benefits for generations to come.